Getting Away With It

I’ve been off work this week, half term holiday. Not done very much, pottered about, visited an exhibition at The Lowry, popped into town and went to a record shop or two, took the kids out, attended a protest meeting where I met Johnny Marr… that sort of thing.

Trafford Council, the Tory run council where we live, have recently announced that as they have no legal obligation to provide transport for disabled and special needs young people over the age of sixteen that they would be withdrawing the service. Most disabled youngsters from the borough attend Brentwood Special School in Timperley and come from all over Trafford. Transport with an escort is essential for these kids. They cannot travel independently. Trafford Council is in favour of ‘independence’ but most of these young people will never be independent as the rest of us know it. Travelling on a public service bus is simply impossible. Not to mention dangerous. The policy is due to be enforced for all of them from September. This will affect our son Isaac. He cannot travel independently, it is out of the question. Under this policy the choice we will have is to either  pay Trafford’s proposed parental contribution (£400 per month) or to take him to school ourselves. The school is several miles away. As I have to leave for work at 7.30 this obviously affects Mrs Bagging Area’s ability and freedom to work if she has to make an hour’s round trip at 8am and then again at 3pm.

More outrageously they cut the transport instantly for eleven young people last September without warning. This has adversely affected the children and the families- some autistic children have been completely disrupted by the loss of transport. Some have needed new medication as a result. At least one parent has lost their job and others have had to give up work or renegotiate with their employers. Some children have been unable to attend 16-19 education. The transport axe fell without warning and in some cases the council asked parents to provide evidence that their child was still disabled, including a girl with Downs Syndrome- as if she had grown out of it when she turned 16. The total cost of the savings for this year is £70, 000, which is a drop in the ocean in the finances of the wealthiest borough in Greater Manchester. Central government have cut local government funding and asked them to make further cuts. Trafford’s Tory ruling group have bent over backwards to accommodate them.

Trafford Council’s motto, displayed proudly on their recently refurbished town hall (multi-million pound refurbishment I might add), is Hold Fast That Which Is Good. Enabling disabled young people to attend school might fit into the category of ‘that which is good’. The education provision in Trafford is rated as Outstanding. Cutting services for the one of most vulnerable groups in society is not. Many other councils in the north-west have decided that although they are not legally bound to provide such transport for disabled and special needs youngsters, they are morally bound to do so. Conservative Party morality is clearly something else entirely.

On Wednesday night we attended a protest at Trafford Town Hall before full council met. Several Labour and Lib Dem councillors have spoken on our behalf. An online petition has over 2000 signatures. The council have delayed a final decision so far. As we stood in the dark outside the town hall with our banners and placards a familiar figure came into view. Johnny’s niece attends Brentwood Special School so he has a personal involvement. And that is how I ended up on the steps of Trafford Town Hall standing next to Johnny Marr- a man whose poster was on my wall as a seventeen year old, whose records I have bought religiously over the last three decades- as he shouted the words of a chant I made up for the benefit of the council and cameras. Was I freaked out? Just a little. The Manchester Evening News report is here with our son Isaac to the left of Johnny in the first picture. Maybe best to ignore some of the mealy mouthed comments at the bottom. The protest was on ITV Granada’s 10.30pm news too. Let’s hope the press attention counts for something as the Tory ruling group meet to consider their final decision.  So while the protest and the campaign are the most important aspect of this, and persuading Trafford Council to accept their responsibilities is the number one priority I have to say I was a tad giddy about meeting Johnny Marr and before leaving we had time for a brief chat and photo opportunity. Top man Mr Marr.